On November 11, 2015, I sat in awe with 3,100 others in the education community as Gisele Huff accepted the first Huff Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in education at iNACOL’s annual conference. Her story had many of us reaching for tissues (and not for the first time at the conference). Huff grew up in Nazi-occupied France and observed back in 1946 that the education system was failing children. She talked to her mother at length about the purpose of education, leading her mother to suggest that she make a career of talking to and persuading others.
Since then, her primary focus has been to transform education with the promotion of blended learning. She argues that, “we need to transform education by changing the way it’s delivered–by making technology integral to the curriculum.” We can’t make band aid changes. After spending a decade in the business world, Gisele completed her PhD in political philosophy and has since dedicated her work to transforming education. Dr. Huff is the Executive Director of the Jacquelin Hume Foundation, and sits on the board of directors for iNACOL and the Learning Accelerator, which creates the tools needed to provide blended learning to all children. She’s been at the forefront of the blended learning movement because she believes that we need to “harness what every other worker in the country uses– technology, which is currently denied to our teachers.”
Gisele proposes a blended learning program that incorporates online content with meaningful teacher-interaction, including one day per week of project-based learning:
Imagine a world where children reach their capacity through the use of adaptive online content, which pushes them in the direction they need to go to grasp concepts and gain mastery. Then they spend time with their teacher, who helps them connect the dots and understand what they’ve learned and apply it to other subjects, other ideas, and engage them in seminar-like activities. On the fifth day, imagine the kids putting together a project that they decide on, and collaborate on… that gets them out into the community, that applies the knowledge that they’ve learned into actually making things, doing things, and proving things, and contributing to the world around them. That is the ultimate way that children should learn. Children’s learning patterns are drastically changing, and if we don’t take that into account, we’ll lose them .
When faced with criticism about the “dangers” of integrating technology into classrooms, Gisele responded light-heartedly with “don’t worry so much about robots taking over teaching… learning is about relationships.” Gisele has been promoting this model far longer than the recent popularity of buzz words like “blended, personalized, and adaptive learning.” When iNACOL surprised her with the first ever Huff Lifetime Achievement Award, she told her story and announced proudly to her mom, “We did it.” What an inspiring woman, and how exciting to be part of such an important movement with her.